Bomber County '99 by Mike Kerr
During the second world war Lincolnshire was known as 'Bomber County', the dozens of rudimentary airfields dotting the countryside housing squadrons of Lancasters as the RAF took the battle into the heart of Europe. Today, similar missions are being sent to mainland Europe, this time from the leafy lanes of rural Gloucestershire, as the B-52s and B-1s from Fairford undertake their deadly task in the skies over Serbia and Kosovo.
"Razor Two-One, you are cleared for take-off". The fully loaded Lancers thunder down the runway using massive amounts of afterburner, heading west into the darkening evening. As they formate after take-off, a radio message states "Razor Two-One, we are holding hands" before they turn onto a north-easterly heading, taking them towards the east coast. Later, turning south, they pass over East Anglia and head out over the North Sea towards Europe, just like their predecessors in B-17s had done some fifty-five years earlier from the many airfields in Suffolk and Essex.
These twilight departures happen most evenings as I write, the normal load being the Mk82 500lb free-fall bomb seen loaded earlier from flat bed trailers. Bomb loading has not been without incident, one Mk82 was seen to part company with the winch and drop some eighteen inches onto the ground; the area was swiftly evacuated and the bomb disposal unit called into action to render the weapon safe. Such are the hazards of warfare, it is not just those who fly the aircraft that are at significant risk. Later, a spokesperson for the air force said that the Mk82 requires a velocity of at least 200 knots in order to arm itself, something which was a relief no doubt to the armaments crew!
These iron bomb missions have been used against airfields, fuel depots and factories, in an attempt to slow the Serbian war machine. There is little doubt that the introduction of the B-1 to the conflict has seen an escalation in NATO's efforts to return stability to the Balkans.
B-52s continue to operate most nights, departing the airfield shortly after dusk. Cruise missiles have been seen being loaded, but as yet none have been seen to be carried externally under the wings. Airframes are being rotated on a regular basis, as the time of occupation of the airfield increases. C-5 Galaxys continue to make regular supply runs, and KC-135s are also occasional visitors.
Fairford has inevitably become a popular destination for aircraft spotters and enthusiasts, but a word of caution; do not park near any police cones or a £20 fixed penalty ticket will appear on your windscreen. I speak from personal experience! Police presence will undoubtedly increase following the on-base protest by three women on 16 April. The BBC stated that the women gained entrance during the night by climbing the perimeter fence using a ladder and made their way to the B-52 area, where they daubed slogans onto one aircraft and staged a protest against the bombing missions. They were very swiftly escorted from the base by security personnel.